Translated from Turkish by Translators for Justice

October 15, 2015

Hande Arpat

I am one of the people responsible for organizing and inviting all of you to this event, and I was there from the very beginning to the very end. Therefore, with your permission, I would like to tell you about what happened, and though it may be somewhat long, I ask only that you listen:

Preparations for the peace rally began early on; organization committees were established, regional organizers appointed, media work-groups formed… Everybody was undertaking their own preparations in a spirit of joy and cheerfulness. On all our posters, in all of our films and slogans, there was a tenacity infused with hope which pierced through the heavy darkness in which we lived. In those days of preparation, every one of us made new friends, becoming comrades for life because ours was a special experience, as we undertook to produce something, to make something in solidarity with others.

We were going to sing our songs, release our white balloons into the Ankara skies, be hand in hand with our laborer friends who came to Ankara from all over the country, and together we were going to spread hope through our sickened country.

It did not happen. Our meeting was bombed right next to our van, namely the Turkish Medical Doctors Association’s (TTB’s) van: our sisters and brothers were killed at the exact spot where we ourselves had been just four minutes earlier.

As soon as the bombs exploded friends from the People’s Houses (Halkevleri) and Democratic Rights Federation (DHF) formed a corridor leading to us. “Easy! Make a corridor to the medics, open the way to the doctors!” I am still amazed; I wonder just where and how we gain these kinds of reflexes which save others’ lives… Let us all be grateful that we were able to rush to the site of the bombing safely and calmly, yet also at the speed of light, through this corridor.

Each and every one of us ran to the side of a wounded person, a fallen comrade; and at precisely that moment, riot police came and teargassed those areas where the wounded, and even the dead, were concentrated. It was utterly incomprehensible… One of our friends, a former chair of our association, was giving CPR at the very moment he was teargassed!  My fellow doctor did not stop doing CPR even though he himself could barely breathe, but perhaps as some of you already know, making sure a patient’s airway is open and ensuring that he or she can breathe is the basis of life support. Imagine that you were critically wounded, that your heart had stopped beating, how fortunate you would be to have a doctor there immediately performing CPR, but the police teargasses both the doctor and you who are fighting for your life, once more attempting to kill you; and you die… And indeed, that is just what happened; despite all of our efforts, that injured brother of ours lost his life…

I wonder if, in the history of the Turkish Republic, there has ever been a similar situation in which such a swift response by competent and equipped professionals was made, only to result in such a negative outcome… In this context, let us take note:

  1. The riot police arrived at the scene of the blasts long before the ambulances did.
  2. They not only entered the scene but also attacked the health professionals, wounded, and dead there with teargas thus attempting to kill them. Based upon medical literature and my own decades-long experience working in emergency clinics, I can say this much for certain: The police, having teargassed the area after the blasts, clearly bear a share of responsibility for the extremely negative outcome, despite the swift intervention of trained and equipped medical professionals on site. Those ultimately and truly responsible for this share of responsibility, however, are the administrative chiefs who gave the orders, or had the orders given. Not only the suicide bombers, but everyone along the chain of command, from the riot police who teargassed critically wounded people to the chiefs who commanded them to do so, bears a share of the responsibility for this massacre; these attacks are clearly attempted murders.

Perhaps some of you have taken a course in first aid. If you have then you know that in a situation like this, in addition to initial emergency response and ensuring safety at the scene, you are supposed to call 112 (Turkey’s emergency number, the equivalent of 911 in the U.S.—t.n.). That is exactly what we did; both our general secretary and I made two long phone calls with 112 and I must stress that neither of those calls went well, that we were not even treated politely. I do not blame the fellow doctors and health staff on duty at that moment at 112 Command and Control, I am not angry at them, I thank them for their efforts. How and why and at whom should we be angry, when the Minister of Health and the staff at the Ministry itself failed to answer the phone calls of the Turkish Medical Doctors Association (TTB) for a considerably long time? Let us make note of a few more points:

  1. The Minister of Health did not answer TTB’s phone calls for some time. In desperation we therefore issued an appeal on TTB’s official website virtually begging for assistance; you can still read the appeal on our website.
  2. In addition to the fact that there were not enough ambulances on the scene, newly arriving ambulances and the entrance of health staff teams were restricted by police barricades. There are images documenting this, in which you can observe TOMA (Riot Control Vehicles) and riot police barricades blocking the narrow entrance to the Train Station leading up from Talatpaşa Boulevard, and how rows of ambulances were being held behind the barricade and thus kept from arriving at the scene.

Right after the attack, all of the wounded (and, sadly, dead bodies too) were examined and necessary aid was carried out by doctors and health staff who rushed to the scene in a very short amount of time, despite the myriad unfavorable conditions that they faced; it is not an exaggeration to say that there was not a single wounded person on the scene who was not visited by a health expert. Just as during the Gezi Uprising and in numerous other cases in which systematic violence was flagrantly carried out, the loss of even more lives was prevented thanks to the early interventions on the part of these doctors and healthcare specialists. Some of my colleagues and I who are also TTB activists left the scene, taking strength from the presence of other colleagues who remained on the scene to help, in order to set up a crisis desk in the TTB building. Soon a crisis desk was established and announced to the public, and data flow began.

Thanks to our doctors, lawyers, and activists who were there in solidarity, and of course our invaluable TTB laborers, this crisis desk functioned with amazing efficiency. Enormous effort was put forth in order to ensure the flow of data, to correctly inform the public of developments, and to assess needs as well as casualties. Meanwhile, our announcements calling for desperately needed blood donations were contradicted by the Ministry of Health and Kızılay (Turkish Red Cross); it was mind-boggling. We made these announcements in accordance with the information provided by surgeons in the operating rooms and intensive care unit watchmen. And if there were indeed sufficient supplies of blood, then there was most certainly a problem getting them delivered to the destinations where they were needed! Frankly speaking, we turned a deaf ear to the disclaimers issued by the Ministry of Health and Kızılay, and concentrated upon making our own announcements, and it was a good thing we did so too, for people from far and near ran to the hospitals to donate blood in response…

We received lots of messages; some of them were messages of solidarity and support, others contained threats and curses (and these still keep coming)… We embraced all who shared our burden and our suffering and acted in solidarity with us; their strength made us stronger. As for the others, frankly, we did not even take them seriously, we did what we had to do; we are, clearly, on opposite sides: they stand for death, we stand for life…

Medical care for the wounded, meeting the needs of their families, psycho-social support for anybody in need, trying to manage judicial processes… these and other tasks have been added to our call for labor, democracy and peace; to our struggle for equal and cost-free health services for every citizen in our country; to our insistence on the provision of good medical practice. We shall persevere on all accounts; we shall continue to be on the side of life, striving tirelessly and fearlessly, undaunted.

We have spoken of sides; they are clear and they are opposed: Whereas we carry out first aid on the critically wounded (and anybody in need), and struggle to keep others alive at the cost of our own lives, they attack us and our patients with teargas and thus, ultimately, kill. Whereas we avoid even stepping on blood, and thus tiptoe over the blood-splattered ground, they, in their giant boots, stomp all over body parts without hesitation. Whereas we insist on being on the life side, and on doing first aid, as you will recall, it is us who they blame, and who they put on trial.

In short; no matter what they do, WE WILL NOT GIVE UP! This is the legacy we have inherited from the brothers and sisters we have lost, the burning sorrow of which we bear deep in our hearts. We know, without a doubt, that we are right: This darkness will be scattered and humanity shall win!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s